Gains against Taliban in Afghanistan are ‘fragile’, says Obama

Thursday, December 16, 2010

WASHINGTON - A report released Thursday on President Barack Obama’s Afghan strategy said progress has been made in turning back the Taliban, but cautioned the situation remains “fragile” and that the challenge remains to make the gains “durable” and “sustainable”.

The White House-led report concluded that the orginal goal of beginning withdrawals of US soldiers in July based on conditions on the ground remains viable.

“While the strategy is showing progress across all three assessed areas of Al Qaeda, Pakistan and Afghanistan, the challenge remains to make our gains durable and sustainable,” the assessment said.

“In Afghanistan, the momentum achieved by the Taliban in recent years has been arrested in much of the country and reversed in some key areas, although these gains remain fragile and reversible,” the report said.

The report was released one year after Obama announced his revised strategy for Afghanistan that included deploying an additional 30,000 troops to the country, stepping up pressure on Al Qaeda and Taliban safe havens in Pakistan and placing greater focus on strengthening the Afghan and Pakistani governments.

Obama is expected to discuss the findings of the assessment later Thursday, along with Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton and Defence Secretary Robert Gates.

The report said that Al Qaeda’s senior leadership in Pakistan is “weaker and under more sustained pressure” than at any time since if fled Afghanistan in 2001, when the US-led coalition launched its attack in response to the Sep 11 terrorist attacks.

Obama’s troop surge enlarged the US presence to more than 100,000 soldiers and raised the NATO and international contingency to more 150,000.

The increase has led to intensified fighting in what were Taliban strongholds, but at the same time produced the highest death toll in the last year for foreign troops since the war began more than nine years ago.

Defeating the Taliban and Al Qaeda in the Afghan-Pakistan region has been among Obama’s top priorities since taking office, even as public support for the conflict has waned. Obama identified July as a timeframe for beginning limited troop withdrawals, but maintains that will be based on conditions on the ground.

A key part of the new strategy was to improve relations with Pakistan and pressure the government in Islamabad to deny Al Qaeda and Taliban refuge in remote terrain across the border with Pakistan.

That strategy has included stepping up drone attacks on Al Qaeda and Taliban targets.

The US commitment to Pakistan has included billions of dollars in military and development aid. The report said that progress in the relationship with Pakistan in the last year has been “substantial, but also uneven”.

Obama spoke with Afghan President Hamid Karzai ahead of the release of the report Thursday. Building up the capacity of Afghan National Security Forces has also been a cornerstone of the new strategy.

The report said the Afghan forces have significantly increased in size and improved capability and has exceeded goals with the help of international and NATO training. The effectiveness of Afghan forces is an essential part of the plan to transfer security responsibility to the Kabul government and facilitate the withdrawal of international forces.

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